Is Dominique Jones pushing Jason Terry?

Is rookie Dominique Jones pushing Jason Terry for playing time?

The short answer is: absolutely.

First, there’s this from Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle:

“We’re what, the fifth-oldest team in the league now? We have to continue to play our young guys and develop them. Whether Dominique is going to be a starter or play that much [the 700 minutes Roddy Beaubois logged as a rookie], who knows? Anybody that can bring a different dimension and can give us toughness and athleticism defensively is going to get a strong look. To this point, he’s done all those things.”

Carlisle has a keen eye on anyone exhibiting hard-nosed defense, one reason why power forward Brian Cardinal might be the early leader among the four players in camp on make-good contracts, and why Jones continues to captivate the coaching staff.

The Mavs finished smack in the middle of the pack last season in points allowed and defensive field-goal percentage. Carlisle knows that’s not good enough. He’s talking of moving into the top five in order to be true contenders in the Western Conference. The players that bring defensive heat in camp and the preseason, which begins tonight at the American Airlines Center against the Washington Wizards, will earn minutes.

As for the veteran Terry, Carlisle said he’s implored him to work on ratcheting up his aggressiveness and intensity as a defender, giving him the green light to gamble more and storm passing lanes.

Of course, Terry’s calling card is as a knock-down shooter and not necessarily as a savvy defender. Asked if he believes Terry can deliver a consistent defensive presence, Carlisle snapped, “Why the [expletive] not? Tell me why can’t he? You’ve never seen him have some great defensive possessions? Can he do that all the time? He can. He can.”

And then Carlisle added this: “That’s one of the great things about having Jones here. Jones has really, in five or six days, established himself as a rugged, tough, physical defender at the guard position. He’s got a chance to get minutes because of his defense.”

Carlisle said Jones has shown an understanding of defensive positioning and that he “fights over screens” and is “a guy that finishes off defensive plays with rebounds and tough, loose-ball plays.

“Coaches take note of that kind of stuff -- in a big way.”

Terry apparently devoured Carlisle’s defensive-minded message and said he spent the offseason working to strengthen his lower body to help him stay in a “defensive stance longer. That’s discipline, one, and, two, it’s lower body strength,” Terry said.

He said he’s concentrating on off-the-ball defense when he said he has a tendency to “stand up and roam a little bit. That’s where my attention’s been this whole camp.”

Terry also said he will start incorporating Jason Kidd’s game-day workout regimen of lifting weights starting with Tuesday’s exhibition opener with the hope it helps him stay stronger longer.

Considering the depth at shooting guard, playing time could depend on it.

“The opportunity’s there. They’re looking for somebody to step in and fill the starting two-guard position and we’ll see what happens,” said Terry, the team’s sixth man for the better portion of the past two seasons. “I’m not concerned more about the minutes than the production. I’m a guy that can get you 15 to 20 points, no matter how you slice it, whether it’s 15 minutes, 20 minutes. It doesn’t matter -- 30, 35 -- I don’t get caught up in the actual per-minute deal.”

Jones wouldn’t seem to be an immediate candidate to start with veteran Caron Butler back and Beaubois likely returning from a broken left foot either before the Oct. 27 regular-season opener or soon after. Still, Jones clearly has the coaching staff’s attention.

“He is a very different kind of player than we’ve had here,” Carlisle said, noting Jones’ ability to use his size and strength to penetrate and get to the rim. “The way for him to get minutes is defensively. That’s a way for him to carve his way into the rotation and into the lineup.”

Soft-spoken and broad-shouldered, Jones has a healthy respect for his elder teammates and has praised Kidd and Terry for giving him pointers during camp. But, he’s also shown that he’s not afraid of going head-to-head with established players.

“We’re a team here, but at the same time we’re competing for minutes because, who wants to sit on the bench?” Jones said. “I think my defense is good. There’s just certain things I have to adjust to -- how to guard NBA guys and what not to give up depending on who I’m guarding, studying my personnel.

“I’m going to use my defense to get on the court, and hopefully give myself room to show other parts of my game as well.”

It will certainly be one of the more intriguing areas to watch as the eight-game preseason schedule unfolds.